America’s public parks in the modern world suffer from a dual perception. They are viewed as absolute necessities by some and unnecessary amenities by others. Thus funding and support varies. Most people enjoy parks and are proud of them. They like to visit or hope to visit someday. But when politics and economic situations vary, so does financial support for maintaining and developing parks. National parks have staggered along underfunded as the decades roll by. But they are pointed to proudly as among our nation’s crown jewels. Listen to summer vacation conversation, and you’ll often hear tales of trips to places like Yellowstone Park or perhaps a historic site like Gettysburg. State parks in Missouri get bare-boned funding. But campgrounds are often full at state parks such as Weston Bend or Watkins Mill. Tourists plan trips around state parks. Residents living nearby use them for recreation, especially the hiking trails. Kansas City’s park history and reputation is among the best of any city in the United States. The city’s parks, fountains and boulevards bring beauty and class to every generation passing through or by them. In the city’s oldest neighborhoods, they are buttresses against urban blight and welcoming beacons for redevelopment. The park-like, creative real estate developments of J.C. Nichols in the 1900s tied in well with public parks, but building Northland parks on lands annexed into the city in the 1950s has been challenging in varying economic times. Luckily, Platte County’s park program has helped the city expand park and recreation opportunities. Johnson County, Kan. is held up as the poster child for prosperous economic development. Good schools helped. So did the fact that it was productive to build new infrastructure that attracted businesses and home buyers. Remember that it’s home buyers who often made decisions about where businesses are located, big and small. Johnson County’s planners and builders added highly used park systems to their good schools and roads. Parks are often pointed to as the source of mental and physical well-being for people who use them, but they are also a key component for economic development and retaining or increasing property values in neighborhoods already built. If that wasn’t so, Johnson County might be without extensive parks. Clay County, our neighbor to the east, had a growing and interesting park system when Platte County had none. And I’m not talking about ancient history. Clay County heartily worked on parks and historic sites in the 1970s and 1980s. That’s not the only reason Clay County grew faster than Platte. But it didn’t hurt. Platte County had the school base covered but not the parks. A process began in Platte County to remedy not only the lack of parks for present residents, but also the lack of a meaningful park plan for the future. Elected county officials and citizens interested in parks began holding public meetings and publicizing efforts to draft park plans. Various types of citizen input and surveys were conducted. Taxpayers and voters expressed a consensus that fields, woods, streams and hillsides — green space — made Platte County a special place to live. They wanted that feature preserved as inevitable development occurred. People also expressed a need for improvements, such as ball fields for families to enjoy. Voters approved a parks plan and a 10-year sales tax to support the plan. Recreation areas appeared in the county. The tax money was shared with city parks programs, which was especially helpful to the smaller towns. Trail systems were linked to connect cities and the county system. Voters liked what they saw and in 2009 easily approved another 10-year extension of the one-half cent sales tax for parks. My children began their youth soccer careers in cramped quarters on the parking fields at the Platte County Fairgrounds. Thanks to a park plan and tax approved by voters, they later transitioned to fields at Platte Ridge Park. I was glad to see the progress. The original parks plan and tax vote was criticized by some. They never stopped despite losing two elections. Attacking parks, recreation and green space preservation does nothing to help a county’s reputation in the metro area, the state or the nation. In fact, I’d say it pushes the county toward taking a step backward in the eyes of everyone who lives here or is looking for a home or a place to locate a business. Platte County has infrastructure and budget needs, but whacking parks provides no long-term solution.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.